My Baby Bris

Circumcision

The Bris Milah is one of the oldest traditions in the 4000-year history of the Jewish faith. Its customs have been passed down through the ages and are rich with cultural history. The term Bris Milah translates to “covenant of circumcision” and refers to the covenant (or deal) between God and Abraham. Over 3500 years ago, God appointed Abraham as his chosen person to spread kindness and monotheism across the world and to be the God’s representative on earth. God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and his family to demonstrate loyalty and faith to the covenant they had entered. Forward from that point in history, the Bris Milah became a symbol of the spiritual connection between the Jewish nation and God. It establishes that Jewish people are part of the family that follows God’s commandments. 

The Bris Milah ceremony traditionally takes place on the 8th day following the boy’s birth. This custom is of utmost importance to observe if the baby’s health is not in question.

The Mohel (“the circumciser”) will arrive from 15 to 30 minutes prior to the Bris to examine the baby and review the ceremony with the parents. The Bris is comprised of three parts.

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First, the ceremony and actual circumcision take place. The circumcision is brief and normally lasts no more than a minute. However, the ceremony lasts from 15 to 30 minutes
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Second, the baby naming takes place. This is a very spiritual event, and parents are encouraged to talk about their baby’s namesake and characteristics they wish for the baby to emulate.
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Third, the obligatory, customary celebratory meal or Seudas Mitzvah is held. This part is very significant and symbolizes the moment of bonding and celebration of the covenant between the Jewish people and God.

Stages of Bris Ceremony

1. Candle Lighting
1. Candle Lighting
In some cases, the groups wish to begin the ceremony with the lighting of candles, usually performed by a trusted friend or a family member. The origin of this ritual is unclear, but the Talmud describes that during a period when circumcision was strictly prohibited, a lit candle placed in  a window acted as an indicator of where a Bris would take place. Spiritually, a lit candle symbolizes the spark of life, a new soul entering the covenant of Abraham. The candle lighting is a popular addition to a Bris circumcision ceremony in some Sfardik communities.
2. Qvater Pair
2. Qvater Pair
The Qvater Pair is traditionally a young couple who are yet to be parents. They receive the honor of bringing the baby into the room or sanctuary. The honor is specifically bestowed upon a woman who wishes to have children. This honor acts as a blessing and good omen for the woman. If she is gracious in bringing another woman’s son into the Bris, God may grant her the honor of her own son being brought to a bris. The Qvater pair hands the baby to the Godmother.
3. Godmother
3. Godmother
Normally, the baby is brought in by the Godmother. The Godmother is normally one of the baby’s grandmothers or other female relative and hands the baby to the Godfather.
4. Godfather
4. Godfather
The Godfather mantle is normally taken up by a grandfather or other trusted male relative – usually the husband of the Godmother. The Mohel asks the audience to rise and greets the baby with “Baruch Haba” – meaning “Blessed is he who enters”.
5. Chair of Elijah
5. Chair of Elijah
The Godfather places the baby on a ceremonial chair – the throne of the prophet Elijah. Since Elijah is considered the guardian angel of children and attends every bris, a throne is placed to represent his presence at the Bris ceremony. Elijah is a strong proponent of the Bris Milah. At Elijah’s time people began to weaken in the Mitzvah of Bris Milah and Elijah rallied the nation back to the observance of the Bris Milah.  Elijah will once again rally the nation of Israel to unity when he will announce the coming of the Messiah (Moshiach) at the end of time. The throne represents not only Elijah’s presence, but it also acts as a prayer for the baby’s health, an expression of hope that Moshiach will arrive during the lifetime of this baby and a sign of faithfulness to God.
6. Sandek
6. Sandek
From the chair, the baby’s father then takes the baby and places him with the Sandek (the companion of the child). The Sandek’s lap acts as an altar and holds the baby for the duration of the Bris. The Sandek is a role of great spiritual importance and he is therefore seated next to the chair of Elijah. This honor is often bestowed upon the Grandfather or a highly esteemed Rabbi. It is said that the Sandek’s Neshama influences the baby’s temperament.
7. The Bris
7. The Bris
This is the most important portion of the ceremony. It is not only the portion in which the circumcision is performed, but also holds much spiritual significance. First, the Mohel will recite the customary blessing of the ritual and then perform the circumcision.

Following this, the father then recites the blessing to bring the baby into the holy covenant of Abraham. The baby is then placed with an honored guest while the Bracha – blessing on the wine of Bore Pri Hagefen – is said. The Bracha of Kores Habrit, the main blessing of the covenant of the love between God and the Jewish people, is declaimed after that. In conclusion, all in attendance ask God to bestow the everlasting protection upon His beloved nation.

8. Baby Naming
8. Baby Naming
Following the baby’s swaddling, a guest is given the honor of performing the baby naming. Often, a guest or Rabbi held in high esteem will be given the honor. This is the conclusion of the Bris Milah ceremony and is normally followed by the singing of Siman Tov Umazai Tov and the festive meal (Seudat Mitzvah). The baby’s name holds very intrinsic meaning and is an important part of a child’s entire life and adulthood in particular. The parents can choose to share the name’s meaning during the meal.

Many wonder what will be done with the removed foreskin. Customarily it is placed in sand or earth. Parents can do this in the yard of their home and even mark the spot with a tree. As this tree grows, a branch may be used in the Chuppah ceremony during the child’s wedding.

The Bris ceremony is a Mitzvah that is done with tremendous happiness. Bris Milah is a sign that we have an unbreakable bond with our Creator. The Bris Milah is our badge of honor that we are part of the Jewish nation that has a permanent bond with Hashem. It is for this reason that the bris is done with such enthusiasm.